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CT Construction Digest Monday November 28, 2022

CT Department of Transportation to get a new leader

Mark Pazniokas

The administration of Gov. Ned Lamont chose a railroad station Wednesday to say goodbye to Joseph J. Giulietti, the railroad lifer lured out of retirement four years ago to run the Department of Transportation, and ratify his choice of a successor, Garrett Eucalitto.

Giulietti, 70, who went to work on the railroad as a 19-year-old Penn Central conductor and left the industry as the president of the Metro North commuter rail system, only laughed when interrupted by the announcement of an arriving train at Union Station in Hartford.

“No, no, it’s OK,” Giulietti said. “It’s music to my ears, anyways.”

The press conference formalized what has been set for months: Giulietti will step down as commissioner in December, and Lamont intends to nominate his well-regarded deputy, Eucalitto, to run ConnDOT at a crucial juncture for the rebuilding of highways and mass transit in America.

Federal transportation funding is at an all-time high, available to Connecticut under formula and competitive grants. Virtually all of the state’s rail improvement priorities were included in the $24 billion in funding approved for the Northeast rail corridor.

But the DOT’s engineering ranks are understaffed, the state must provide matching funds, and the construction industry long has complained that Connecticut moves too slowly on infrastructure.  

Eucalitto, 41, who grew up in Torrington and lives in New Haven, is a departure as commissioner, neither a highway engineer nor transit executive. He is a self-described policy nerd, schooled in complexities of how to best finance massive infrastructure projects as well as how to assess their impact on what it means to commute and live in Connecticut.

“My decision to leave the DOT would not have been possible had I not known that Garrett Eucalitto is here to step up and step in,” Giulietti said. “No one is more passionate and committed to transportation, equity, inclusion and roadway safety than Garrett.”

Eucalitto had an unsatisfying stint as an underutilized undersecretary for planning and intergovernmental policy at the Office of Policy and Management, researching and developing transportation, environmental and regional planning initiatives for the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

He left OPM in 2017 to become the transportation program director for the National Governors Association in Washington, where he previously had been a policy aide for U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman. Eucalitto said he had no intention of returning to Hartford until approached by Giulietti in late 2019.

Eucalitto was hired as deputy commissioner in January 2020.

Lamont praised Giulietti for recruiting his eventual successor.

“Garrett had, I thought, a really appropriate resume,” Lamont said. Then he smiled and glanced sideways at Eucalitto. “Worked for Joe Lieberman, Dan Malloy. What could go wrong with that?” 

Lamont lost a Senate race to Lieberman in 2006 and a gubernatorial primary to Malloy in 2010.

In Eucalitto, the agency is getting a leader with a holistic view of transportation, from what it means to be a pedestrian to how to replace 19th-century rail bridges that were designed during the administration of William McKinley and contribute to slower times today than when Giulietti punched his first ticket.

“We need to make our transportation network safer for anyone using our systems, which means continuing to improve our roadways, building out sidewalks and crosswalks, roundabouts, bike lanes, cleaning up our transportation system — making transit easier and more appealing for passengers,” Eucalitto said.

Rep. Cristin McCarthy Vahey, D-Fairfield, the co-chair of the legislature’s Transportation Committee, said she was sorry to see Eucalitto leave OPM in 2017 and thrilled when Giulietti brought him back as his deputy in 2020. She called him a big-picture “systems thinker.”

Giulietti hired him in part for his expertise in transportation financing. Connecticut is one of the few states that wholly rely on state bonding to finance transportation infrastructure, eschewing competitive federal loan programs such as TIFIA, the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act.

TIFIA loans require dedicated revenue sources, but they are cheap and can be paid back over as long as 75 years, an appropriate span for financing major rail bridges that remain in use for a century, Eucalitto said.

In the last budget, the General Assembly agreed to the administration’s request to create 206 new positions for the DOT, many of which will go to an Office of Innovative Financing. About 150 have been filled, he said.

Connecticut eliminated highway tolls in the 1980s, and Lamont failed to bring them back in 2019 to stabilize a nearly insolvent special transportation fund that relies on gasoline taxes and a share of the sale tax. A highway use tax on trucking that goes into effect in January will provide a new funding source.

Lamont and Eucalitto each responded quickly and curtly when asked about whether the administration would revisit tolls. Each said, “No.”

Eucalitto added, however, that every state that relies on gasoline taxes will have to find other revenue in 20 years as electric vehicles become the norm.

To help consumers cope with rising gas prices, the state suspended its 25-cents-a-gallon tax on gasoline in April through Dec. 1, costing about $30 million a month in lost revenue. Next week, the General Assembly is expected to meet in special session to pass a bill adding a nickel back every month until the full 25 cents is reinstated.

The state has made up the difference with federal pandemic relief money, as well as the higher revenues generated by a price-sensitive gross receipts tax on fuel. But Lamont said the state cannot afford the gas-tax holiday indefinitely.

“I’m pretty sensitive about the special transportation fund, especially given where we were four years ago, and given the increased demands,” Lamont said. “With all the additional money coming in from the feds, we still have to make a 20, 30, 40% contribution, depending on the competitive grant.”

Donald Shubert, the president of the Connecticut Construction Industries Association, said Eucalitto is well-positioned to take over the DOT.

“I’ve known him since he started doing transportation with Sen. Lieberman two decades ago, and he has has worked diligently towards this his entire professional career,” Shubert said.

The DOT is currently has 700 openings, and it is competing for engineers and other professionals in a tight labor market. 

“We definitely need more engineers. We’ve tapped I think every engineer that works in the state of Connecticut,” Eucalitto said. “We’re going to job fairs all across the tri-state region now as well.”

Historically, hiring has been slowed by the involvement of two other agencies, the Department of Administrative Services and the Office of Policy and Management.

Eucalitto said the process has improved, with DAS quickly posting job openings.

“It’s night and day compared to when I was at OPM. There’s a much better relationship between our sister agencies,” he said. 

CT’s next transportation commissioner differs from his predecessor. Is he a good fit?

Jim Cameron

The Connecticut Department of Transportation (CDOT) is getting a new Commissioner. After four years on the job, Joe Giulietti is retiring.

Gulietti has spent more than 50 years in transportation, starting as a brakeman and conductor on the old Penn Central Railroad while still a student at Southern CT State University.  He graduated to road foreman and then assistant manager for operating rules before joining the new Metro-North in 1983 as superintendent of transportation.

In 1998 he pulled up stakes and moved to Florida where, for 14 years, he ran the Tri-Rail commuter rail system.  Then Metro-North called him back to become President of the railroad from 2014 to 2017, when he retired after a health scare.

As he likes to tell the story, Giulietti got a cold call in 2018 from newly elected Governor Ned Lamont, beckoning him out of retirement (again) to become CDOT commissioner, his “job of a lifetime”.

Giulietti accomplished a lot in his tenure, delivering projects on-time and on-budget while being constantly pushed by his boss to speed up rail service to fulfill Lamont’s pipedream of “30-30-30” service.  The commissioner also took one for the team, serving as front man for Lamont’s unpopular tolls initiative, long since abandoned.

Insiders tell me Giulietti is heading south again to warmer climes, but I’m guessing he may resurface in some consulting role.  He knows too much to just sit on a beach.

The 70-year-old Giulietti’s successor is Garrett Eucalitto, his former deputy commissioner, a self-described “policy nerd”, not a railroad or highways guy.  Eucalitto, who’s in his 40s, may be the perfect guy for the job because the challenge at CDOT has changed.

The task now is finding the money and the talent to execute on long-planned transportation improvements.  While Connecticut is getting $5.38 billion in federal funding, the new commissioner has to match those funds with state money and compete with other states for $100 billion in additional funding for specific projects.

Eucalitto knows funding like Giulietti knew railroad switches.  The new commissioner spent time at OPM, the state’s Office of Planning and Management, which controls the budget purse strings.  And he worked for the National Governor’s Association, turning transportation wishes into funding realities.

But finding the money is only half the battle that Eucalitto will face.  He also needs to find talent to execute on the plans.  After years of attrition under the Malloy administration, CDOT still has 700 unfilled jobs.

Eucalitto says the agency is attending jobs fairs and scouring the region for engineers.  The CDOT is even having trouble hiring truck drivers, competing as it must with the private sector.

Eucalitto inherits an agency with a strong direction and good momentum.  The all-important Special Transportation Fund (STF) which subsidizes these projects is coming back from life support, the current “gas tax holiday” notwithstanding.

Asked if tolls were back on the table as a funding source for the STF, Eucalitto said “No… but…”  In 20 years when we’re all driving electric vehicles, a tax on petroleum products to pay for transportation will be an odd footnote in history.

Danbury moves ahead with ‘very exciting’ career academy after buying, rezoning west side hilltop

Rob Ryser

DANBURY — The city has acquired a 24-acre hilltop on the west side, moving forward its ambitious plans to open the first career academy of its kind in Connecticut by 2024, and provide badly needed classrooms for a student enrollment that has outpaced projections.

“The city of Danbury — I don’t want to use the desperate, but I am going to — desperately needs more schools,” said Paul Rotello, the City Council’s Democratic Minority Leader, during a meeting earlier this month. “I have high hopes for this.”

Danbury closed on the Apple Ridge Road property formerly used by Cartus Corp. on Tuesday afternoon and rezoned the light industrial campus into residential zoning on Tuesday night, clearing the way for the city to take the next step for the $164 million project.

“We are moving ahead with the rest of our approvals,” said Antonio Iadarola, Danbury’s engineer and public works director, during a Zoning Commission meeting earlier this month. “We are in the middle of seeking several approvals from the state for this project … to facilitate a well-developed, well-designed school that meets all the needs of the Board of Education and the state.”

Details about Tuesday’s closing were not immediately available on Wednesday, except that the city took ownership of the property shortly before 3 p.m., Iadarola said.

The closing is the latest development in the city’s emergency plan to catch up with runaway enrollment by converting the 270,000-square-foot office complex into a high school and middle school for 1,400 students. The new west side high school in conjunction with Danbury High School would incorporate Connecticut’s first “wall-to-wall” academy to provide career and college training for every high school student.

The career academy, which would be adjacent to the Wooster School to the south, is part of a larger $208 million spending plan approved by voters in June to build more classrooms across the city — including $27 million for a 16-classroom early childhood education center at Great Plain Elementary School.

The state has agreed to reimburse Danbury for 80 percent of its classroom construction costs.  

“This is a very exciting project for the city of Danbury and the Board of Education,” Iadarola said.

The city’s land purchase clears an ownership hurdle that was a key obstacle with Danbury’s previous plan to build its west side academy in three pods of the sprawling Summit office building development near the New York border. Although the city initially thought it would work to have a condominium-style arrangement with the owners of the Summit, that agreement fell apart in February, forcing the city to switch gears.

The new career academy would overlook a west side that continues to lead Danbury’s economy with large-scale residential development and new business activity. To get the academy plans off the ground, the city needed to revert to the zoning that was in place 40 years ago when the biggest thing on the west side was the Danbury Fair.

The 24 acres bought by the city, which was zoned light industrial, needed to revert to its 1979 status when the land was zoned residential, like the surrounding neighborhood.

“The zone change is a slight shift in the zone line that exists between the (residential) and the (light industrial) district that is to the east,” Iadarola said during a Nov. 10 Zoning Commission meeting. “This is not an isolation of a segregated zone, this is actually a shift of the existing zone line that exists.”

Rotello agreed.

“This is not spot zoning — it’s contiguous with other zones of a similar nature,” Rotello said. “As good as Cartus and Hologic were as neighbors, there is no crystal ball for determining what the future use of this parcel could be, and turning it into residential zoning and putting a school there is probably a much better fit and certainly for the existing school that is there at Wooster, which has been in Danbury for 100 years.”

Zone change spurs progress


NAUGATUCK – The mixed use development project for Parcel B is moving ahead after a new downtown zone was created by town officials.

The Zoning Commission on Nov. 16 approved text changes to the land use regulations that creates a special development district for a “combined working, service, shopping, retial, restaurant/dining, entertainment, recreation, residential, hotel, medical, technology, industry, educational, energy creation, office and other compatible uses in a coordinated environment.”

“We’re trying to revitalize downtown and turn it into a combined downtown living, working, pedestrian friendly multi-mobile restaurant dining, entertainment, recreation residential and office use zone,” Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said.

The text change has an effective date of Dec. 5. The commission also accepted a special permit application and set a hearing for Dec. 14 at Town Hall for the proposed mixed use residential and commercial development for Parcel B.

This comes after the Planning Commission, on Nov. 7, approved sending a positive referral to the Zoning Commission for both the text change and the zone change to six properties: 0 Maple St., 83 Maple St., 87 Maple St., 98 Water St. and 0 Elm St.

Along with the approval, the Planning Commission gave three recommendations – to add the word technology, to add research facilities in the area of alternative energy production and not allow drive-through commercial windows.

Earlier this year, the Board of Mayor and Burgesses chose Pennrose, a real estate development company headquartered in Philadelphia, and the Cloud Company, a Hartford-based firm, to develop 7.75 acres at the corner of Maple Street and Old Firehouse Road, also known as Parcel B. The borough board also approved a few months ago to select Bridgeport-based Corvus Capital Partners as the preferred developer for Parcel A, or the Naugatuck Event Center, at 6 Rubber Ave.

The new zone will incorporate Parcels A and B as well as Parcels Y and Z which are further south of the Naugatuck Event Center, and where there’s abandon vehicles and junk, Hess said.

“We’ve put together the engineering and development teams from Pennrose, from Corvus and from the town with all of our staff to come up with a regulation that will fit the needs so that we can develop these projects in a manner consistent with the regulations,” Hess said.

While those two projects begin to move ahead, the borough is spending its American Rescue Plan Act money to redo the infrastructure by bringing in all new sanitary sewers and storm water systems and the complete rebuild of Maple and Church streets, Hess said.

Hess said the borough has waited years to have a real commuter line on the Waterbury Branch Line which began this year. Changes to the demographics of downtown makes it much more attractive to investors and developers.

Pennrose Developer and Project Manager Karmen Cheung said the Parcel B development will be divided into three phases with 60 units for each. Developers plan for in the range of high 70s of parking spaces per 60 units. The parking lot will be located between the proposed building and the train station.

“I don’t envision that being an issue for our residents,” Cheung said.

“You’re going to see allocated just for the state of Connecticut, nothing to do with the parking for this project, on Parcel B, 70 parking spaces allocated just for the users of the train line,” Hess said.

Town Planner Lori Rotella said Pennrose Cloud submitted a special permit application on the week of Nov. 7 for the mixed use development of Parcel B.

“We want a vibrant downtown, a livable, a workable one and we want a lot of people walking around, going to restaurants buying things and have a lot more activity in downtown Naugatuck.”

Latest plan for Greenwich train station offers 'more modern approach' to design, according to architect

Robert Marchant

GREENWICH — In an initial review by town planning officials of a proposal to make the retail and restaurant complex at the Greenwich train station more inviting and accessible, the architect of the redesign said it would offer "an entirely different feel." 

Architect Frank Prial Jr. walked the Planning & Zoning Commission through the proposed reconstruction of Greenwich Plaza at Railroad Avenue and spelled out the new look planned for the key gateway to Greenwich.

It's "an entirely different sense of space," Prial said of the redesign that would feature large windows and materials drawn from the natural world. 

Commissioners did not raise any major criticism over the proposal during its first review last Tuesday. "Everybody is pretty happy," Chairwoman Margarita Alban said after asking members whether there were objections to the plan.

The proposal calls for the demolition of the Bow Tie Cinema movie theater, which is now closed. A 7,879-square-foot building of mixed-use space would be built at that site, including a 4,975-square-foot restaurant with a large outdoor patio, Prial said. Also, 2,170 square feet of retail space would be added next to the restaurant.

Developers said a movie theater is no longer economically viable at the site, due to changing consumer preferences.

The large new restaurant would have large sliding glass doors, "very welcoming, very inviting," said Prial, who worked on a renovation of Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan and a number of other railroad stations.

A major redesign of the exterior and interior of the Greenwich train station would be carried out, including new and improved pedestrian access, as part of the project, he said. 

The train station itself, Prial said, would be given a new glass facade with a large clock in the center and an extended canopy over the sidewalk, a design reminiscent of railway stations in Europe, the architect said.

"It's a more modern approach, cleaner," he said, calling the current train station "a lost opportunity" in welcoming travelers to town.

The redesigned station would enjoy more natural light, Prial said, and a large electronic sign on the inside, a "zipper," would post train times and announcements.

New stairways would be added to access the train platform, replacing what Prial called the unattractive and difficult stairs now in use at the station.

The cladding of the new structure would be in granite and limestone, along with cedar and a metal alloy that looks like bronze. The goal would be to reference the other significant buildings in central Greenwich that use those materials, Prial said.

The Ashforth Co. owns the site and is seeking approval for the new construction at the complex in the center of downtown.

Alos, a traffic consultant, John Canning, told the commission that Metro-North ridership has dropped substantially at the Greenwich train station in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has made traffic flow less of a problem in the area.

The proposed development, he said, would have little impact on the nearby streets. "It's not generating a lot of traffic, and it's dispersed," Canning said.

Alban, the commission chairwoman, said she had concerns about traffic problems if and when ridership returned to previous levels on the commuter train line, acknowledging that it was hard to predict with more residents working from home or on hybrid schedules.

Commissioner Peter Levy encouraged the development team to tone down an "urban" feel at the station and aim for "a little bit more of a small town" aesthetic.

The application was directed to go for another review at the Architectural Review Committee for additional input and the notes from the P&Z Commission, on fairly minor points about the redesign.

Prial, the architect, said the input from the P&Z Commission and the ARC had been beneficial. "The project is much better than it was," he said.

A vote on whether to approve the plan could come at a later meeting after another session with the architecture committee.

West Haven still awaiting Beach Street permit, hopes for April start

Brian Zahn

WEST HAVEN — A city official says the city is still waiting for a state permit that would allow for the raising of Beach Street, a holdup that has left a swath of the city's shoreline languishing.

The project to raise the street, an effort to protect against shoreline flooding, began five years ago. The city obtained the funding for the current phase in 2020. New owners of abandoned Beach Street properties have said they are waiting until the completion of the road raising project before beginning development.

City Engineer Abdul Quadir told the Planning and Zoning Commission that the city hopes to begin the project on April 1, 2023, using regular fill to raise the street about two to six feet, with a bike path and some sidewalks on city-owned property. Commission Chairwoman Kathy Hendricks said using natural fill materials would be an advantage, as the installation of retaining walls would create a risk that water from a major storm event would not recede back into the ocean if it were to breach the wall.

Earlier this year, city officials projected they would have the necessary state permits by fall. However, officials discovered a protected species of plant along the street, which requires a conservation plan that much be approved by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection's Wildlife Division.

The road-raising is expected to provide protection against stormwater for planned restaurants, housing and hotels along that stretch of the city's beach. Chick's Drive-In, an iconic city eatery that closed in 2015, flooded during Superstorm Sandy and Tropical Storm Irene. 

Owners of the sites of the former Chick's Drive-In and Debonair Motel said last month they are eager to develop at those sites. but told the Register they are awaiting the completion of the road-raising project before moving forward.

Chris Marone, owner of the former Chick's, said project engineers advised them to wait so that the business does not open next to what is projected to be several months of construction. Sim Levenhartz, owner of the former Debonair Motel, said he is waiting to see what the sight lines of the beach from the property will be, as well as how much grading would be required for a parking lot, before development.

Marone said that he does not expect the road-raising project to have any impact on a plan to add 12 townhouse units to a section of the former Chick's parcel that had been used for restaurant parking.

On NIMBYISM and ‘opportunity’: Private developer tackles public problem of housing affordability

Elizabeth Reganr

Affordable housing developer Harold Foley’s latest project is not in anybody’s backyard.

The $16 million, 40-unit Brookside Commons affordable housing development is going up on 16 acres next to the Target store on Route 85 in Waterford. The commercial strip stands in stark contrast to the neighborhood around the former Cohanzie Elementary School where, several years ago, Foley made a failed bid to construct four new apartment buildings while saving the historic school from demolition.

The Georgia-based developer has leveraged 20 years of experience in multiple states to emerge as a success story in obtaining federal tax credits to help solve the affordable housing shortage in Connecticut.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition puts the gap at 85,403 units: That’s how many more low-income households there are than places for them to comfortably live.

Foley, owner of HF3 Group LLC, said he’s built about 25 affordable housing developments in Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and now in this state. His Connecticut projects include two in Waterbury as well as East Lyme’s Rocky Neck Village.

Foley said community opposition remains one of the largest impediments to affordable housing projects, whether in the South or North.

In a phone interview with The Day, Foley said he abandoned plans for the Cohanzie development due to what he described as “a tremendous amount” of not-in-my-backyard resistance, or NIMBYism.

Foley’s plan for the site, vacant since the elementary school closed in 2008, included 35 apartments marketed at reduced rates to a mix of seniors, veterans and families making less than $58,000 a year. The nine remaining units would have been rented at the full market rate of $1,200 to $1,400.

An apartment is considered affordable by state standards when low- and moderate-income tenants don’t spend more than 30% of their income on rent and associated expenses.

While offering rents lower-income earners can afford is not a money maker on its face, federal and state programs seek to make the proposition more enticing through the use of tax credits. A developer who is awarded the tax credits from the government can then turn around and sell them to investors for the funding needed to make the project financially feasible.

Foley said the majority of Cohanzie neighbors who opposed the project were concerned about putting apartments in a neighborhood of single-family homes.

But there’s more to it, he added: “I think there are underpinnings, if you will, that pertain to neighborhoods not wanting to have families or individuals that do not earn enough money, if you will, to stay in the more traditional apartment complexes.”

About a hundred residents came out in 2019 to implore members of the Waterford Planning and Zoning Commission to reject the developer’s plan for the Cohanzie School site.

The lone person to speak in favor of Foley’s application was met with jeers and cries of “go home” from attendees. One woman openly wept at the idea of losing the small-community feel that she described as characteristic of Waterford. Others said they were concerned about the strain renters would put on traffic, public safety and the school system.

The commission struck down the application in a 4-1 vote because the development didn’t fit with the surrounding environment. Cohanzie School remains vacant.

A public problem in private hands

The federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program was established under the Tax Reform Act of 1986 to engage private interests in solving the affordable housing problem after public efforts failed.

The program is administered in this state by the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority (CHFA).

Since then, a movement has emerged to address housing segregation with tax credits. Led here by the Open Communities Alliance and Connecticut Fair Housing Center, advocates are working to direct more financing for affordable housing to suburban areas so lower income earners have options outside cities.

The scoring process used by CHFA to administer the federal tax credits awards points in several categories to prioritize sustainable developments that serve more lower-income people in places with the most “opportunity” for them to thrive.

A new map laying out the “opportunity” landscape of the state was unveiled last year. The authority’s aim is to support development in areas that are desirable to live in but which do not currently have many affordable options.

Both the Brookside Commons and Cohanzie sites are in the section of Waterford identified as a “high” opportunity area by the funding authority. The second highest ranking on the opportunity scale, it represents some combination of school quality, proximity to community colleges, job availability and access to public transportation.

The scale spans “very low” to “very high” areas of opportunity, with the most concentrated areas of highest opportunity occurring in wealthy enclaves of Fairfield and Hartford counties.

Waterford, along with Bozrah, Franklin, Old Lyme, Stonington and portions of East Lyme and Groton, are the only other high priority areas in a region critics argue has been overlooked by the funding authority.

Based on the map, New London and Norwich provide the least opportunity to help spread affordable housing options more equitably across a broader section of the state.

Nandini Natarajan, CEO of CHFA, said in a phone interview this past week that the scoring system for low-income housing tax credits allows more people to live where they choose.

She has said her agency typically finances about 1,300 housing units per year.

“We’re not necessarily dictating where people need to live,” she said. “We’re not saying you have to live in Old Lyme versus New London.”

She reiterated “opportunity rich” towns have crucial resources like good schools and job availability.

“That could be a good thing for some families,” she said. “Maybe other families don’t want to avail themselves of it because they like where they live. And that’s okay. I don’t think we’re dictating that. I think we’re providing opportunity, is how we look at it.”

‘Steering the money’

New London Mayor Michael Passero is a vocal critic of the LIHTC scoring process he said makes it difficult for developers to secure tax credit financing in the small city. In an interview with The Day earlier this year, he pointed to the proposed redevelopment of the vacant Edgerton School that was repeatedly rejected for tax credit financing.

The 124-unit Edgerton proposal was conceived to provide living quarters for some, if not all, of the residents who were displaced from the Thames River Apartments when the federally-subsidized high-rise complex was authorized for demolition in 2018. While the federal government had gotten out of the housing business with a 1998 law effectively halting new public construction, residents were provided with housing vouchers they could use on any qualifying rental, including affordable housing developments like The Edgerton.

The Edgerton developers tried for three consecutive years to get low-income tax credits but fell short of receiving enough points.

Passero said one of his roles as mayor is to try to get the state to understand “that people who require subsidized housing need to live in the urban centers because that’s where the services are, that’s where the transportation is.” That means reconsidering the points system, according to Passero.

“I mean, you can push the subsidized housing out into the suburbs, but I don’t know if that necessarily helps the families,” he said. “I still think there’s a need to build more housing and density in a city like New London. We support that here. My administration supports that. It just doesn't seem like state policy or federal policy is on our side right now.”

Passero said the scoring system has gotten “incrementally worse” for the city from the days of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to Gov. Ned Lamont’s current administration.

“Lamont, I think, is really steering the money to other communities,” he said. “I see a lot of building in Waterford.”

Natarajan, appointed to her post in 2019, described the LIHTC program as “very competitive.”

She put the amount requested by developers in a given cycle at two to three times the available tax credits.

She responded to concerns from those like Passero by emphasizing there are other funding mechanisms through state agencies that can help finance projects. But she acknowledged LIHTC financing is the most sought after.

The scoring system is a way to put state housing priorities into practice, according to the CEO – and that’s “never going to please everybody.”

“There’s a certain encapsulation of the housing policy goals, and if you don’t meet it it’s not going to be a happy situation for you, unfortunately,” she said. “I don’t know what to say except come and talk to us about what you’re looking to do and we’ll work with you.”

Opportunity rich

For Foley’s Brookside Commons development in Waterford, CHFA documents show 80% of the 40 one- and two-bedroom units will be set aside as affordable. The largest chunk, at 16 units, is reserved for households that make from 25% to 50% of the area’s $102,700 median income. Eight units are reserved for those who make up to 80% of the median and another eight for those who can pay the full market rate. The units are deed restricted to remain affordable for 50 years.

Eight units are reserved for homeless families being served by regional social services providers. The proposal includes an on-site coordinator to provide support services to help the families, who must make less than 25% of the median income, remain stable in their new homes.

A family of four making $28,150 annually would pay $633 a month in rent for a two-bedroom apartment, based on state-mandated income limits for tax credit properties.

A family of four that makes $67,560 — or 60% of the area median income — would pay $1,521 per month for the same sized unit.

Reserving units for families experiencing homelessness and offering support services gave Foley the maximum number of points in categories that show the state’s preference for providing housing options for the lowest-income households.

Foley used “challenging” to describe a LIHTC application process that changes every two years.

“There are myriad various characteristics that one has to incorporate into their development in order to prevail in obtaining the tax credits,” he said. “All of these boxes have to be checked.”

Foley scored 74 points out of a possible 106 points for his Brookside Commons development in Waterford, according to the points calculation worksheet provided by CHFA. That includes six points for developments located in towns with less than 10% of their housing stock designated as affordable and eight points for being in a community of well performing schools with access to higher education and jobs.

The Brookside Commons development garnered unanimous approval this year from the CHFA Board of Directors for more than $9 million in loans and $900,180 in federal tax credit financing. The project was approved separately for $500,000 in tax credits from CHFA’s own state tax credit contribution program.

Foley said the job influx contributed significantly to his decision to build a mix of low income, moderate income and workforce housing in this part of the state.

“Southeast Connecticut was prioritized for affordable housing development because of the many well-paying employment opportunities that were emerging. That’s what drew us to Waterford and it drew us to East Lyme as well,” he said.

Foley recounted getting into tax credit development in Jackson, Miss., in 2003. He said the need remains for affordable housing for people of all incomes.

“Everyone’s not privileged to make $250,000 a year,” he said. “There are many residents that earn less than $60,000, $50,000, $40,000 annually. And those citizens and families deserve the same type of quality housing as their more affluent counterparts.”